• Gas companies and utilities working to maintain services through COVID-19 pandemic

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

GasWorld has provided a general overview of the ways in which the COVID-19 coronavirus has affected the gas industry – as of mid-March. Apart from the postponing or cancellation of a range of industry conferences and trade shows in North America, such as the GAWDA Spring Management Conference, there are impacts on supply, demand, and manufacturing in various ways. Some supply of parts from China has been disrupted, fitting into a general fall-off in trade, as demonstrated by around a 20% fall in trans-Pacific cargo (US-Asia) in the first quarter of the year. Some manufacturers within the US have so far seen little to no impact on their business, although this could quite easily change in the weeks and months to come. The effects of the virus are expected to be uneven. Some manufacturing in the US and other parts of the world may be disrupted, and demand for some products – such as oxygen for supply to hospitals – will increase, while others associated with consumer products may fall. Others still, for instance for essential industry such as power production, are unlikely to be heavily affected. The spread of the virus and its economic effects are difficult to predict, as they will depend on the policies governments choose, and how successfully they are implemented, and the behaviour of the virus itself is not thoroughly understood.

A more utility-focused overview has been given by the Financial Times, describing how companies in North America and Europe are making arrangements with governments to keep essential services going. Most utilities have long had emergency plans, often including specific pandemic plans (for instance the nuclear sector in the US), and are now activating them, some with arrangements such as the separation of staff into teams to provide additional resilience. Lists of field and plant workers, as well as essential facilities and other infrastructure are being sent to governments so that workers can be given permission to travel during lockdowns. Presently, except in isolated cases, staff levels have not been significantly affected by fear of or actual contraction of the virus, but the future is unpredictable. That demand for power is down by 15% in France and 7-10% in Spain as less economic activity takes place is unlikely to affect the need for staff. To date, the typical attitude of utility workers appears to be that they want to do their job and keep their countries running.